I’m home from the Character.org conference and still processing all that I gleaned. What a rich time!
I met teachers from all over the country and learned more about their challenges—especially as many teach a staggering number of students whose lives have been touched by trauma. I met principals and heard about creative ways they shape the culture of their schools to encourage strong character. And I met dedicated Character.org leaders willing to fill me in on the history of the organization. I was heartened to hear of their eagerness to study the impact of character development programs.
In short, it was great to meet so many people who care about the formation of character in young people!
It was also fascinating to peruse the exhibit hall of vendors offering different character development programs. It’s hard to know what works and what doesn’t—but there are certainly a lot of options. Again, it is good to see that gifted educators and writers are putting their minds to this important endeavor.
One of the highlights was visiting Imagine Hope Community Public Charter School. This inner-city elementary school blew me away with its intentionality in fostering a community of kindness. This was evident in many ways, from “conflict carpets,” where students go to work through disagreements in a constructive way, to “JIFF Jars,” where students deposit written compliments as they notice each other exemplify traits the school is trying to impart. The walls of Imagine Hope were covered with posters—mostly handmade—that described topics like how to get along with others and what makes a good friend. There were also posters honoring staff members of the month, parents of the month, and classes with 95 percent or higher attendance rates. The entire atmosphere was one of encouragement and of valuing relationships along with academic excellence.
Another personal highlight was attending a breakout session on storytelling by Joe Beckman. As a writer, I fully believe in the power of stories to inspire and compel. Beckman both modeled storytelling and taught attendees how to tell stories themselves, identifying and crafting thought-provoking narratives that contain a kernel of truth about character.
There were some places I saw a departure from the paradigm that we use at CultureFeed—particularly, a psychologically informed emphasis on skills development that could preclude an attention to culture’s shaping power. But the overlap was significant and the content encouraging. If you’ve considered the Character.org National Forum but are on the fence about attending, I highly recommend it. No matter what your approach to character formation, you will come away inspired.
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